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How COVID-19 is Affecting Human Trafficking

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By:

Laura Tenbus

May 4, 2020
Human trafficking isn’t a topic most people think about. It seems like something that only happens on TV – not in Maryland – but that assumption couldn’t be more wrong. Part of this perception is due to the way human trafficking is depicted onscreen; it often portrays women being kidnapped and transferred across borders.

Ashley McAree, MSN, RN, FNE-A/P, SANE-A, Human Trafficking Liaison for GBMC’s Sexual Assault Forensic Examination (SAFE) and Domestic Violence (DV) Program, wants people to know this portrayal of human trafficking is far from the full story and anyone can become a victim. Any person who is forced into labor or commercial sex through fraud or coercion is a victim of human trafficking. Minors who are involved in commercial sex in any capacity are also considered to be victims of human trafficking.

Victims often know their trafficker and go through a grooming process before they are trafficked. Many of those who are targeted are already in a vulnerable position and have an unmet need that the trafficker promises to fulfill. Groups that are particularly vulnerable include:
  • Young people and minors
  • People living in poverty
  • Those with a history of drug or alcohol abuse
  • Victims of physical, sexual, and/or emotional abuse during childhood
  • Those with a history of running away from home
The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has created an even greater disadvantage for victims of human trafficking. The economic impact of business closures and lack of work creates more needs that a predator could promise to fulfill. At-home schooling has dramatically increased the amount of time that children are spending online – something traffickers are very aware of and often use to lure in their victims. Ashley urges parents to speak openly with their children about the risks of chatting with people they don’t know online and providing personal information to strangers. Parents may be unaware that many apps (including games) have chat functions. Traffickers are actively seeking ways to reach children and parents need to keep an eye on the type of apps and websites their children are using.

Victims of human trafficking are not alone and help is available. GBMC’s SAFE and DV Program offers a secure and confidential voicemail that is checked every few hours by a victim advocate, who will contact the caller and provide help. There are also many community resources that have 24-hour hotlines (listed at the bottom of the page). The Program is actively working to educate healthcare providers, both inside and outside of GBMC, about the signs of human trafficking and what to do if they suspect someone is a victim.

If human trafficking is suspected, GBMC’s SAFE and DV Program advises trying to talk to the victim alone and offering help. Never approach a suspected trafficker. If there is an emergency, call 911. In non-emergency situations, victims and others should call the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888. This hotline and the resources listed below are available for victims 24/7.

Baltimore County Police Department
  • If you are in immediate danger, please call 911.
  • If 911 is not an option, have a family member or friend call the non-emergency number at 410-887-2222, email iwatch@baltimorecountymd.gov, or call the Special Victims Unit at 410-887-2223.
GBMC’s SAFE and DV Program – 443-849-3323, www.gbmc.org/safe-dv

The Family Tree (parenting helpline) – 1-800-243-7337 or live chat at www.familytreemd.org
  • Connects parents to resources to prevent child abuse and provides family counseling, children and youth services, and public policy and advocacy
Turn Around (helpline) – 443-279-0379, www.turnaroundinc.org
  • Provides therapeutic services to victims of sexual assault and domestic violence including legal advocacy, shelter, employment readiness, and case management
House of Ruth Maryland – 410-889-7884, www.hruth.org
  • Provides services to victims of intimate partner violence including emergency shelter, legal clinic services, counseling services, and abuse intervention
Family Crisis Center – Office: 410-285-4357 – Shelter: 410-285-7496

Baltimore County Domestic Violence/Sexual Assault Hotline – 410-828-6390

SARC Harford County – 410-836-8430

National Domestic Violence Hotline – 1-800-799-7233
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